Utah Regional Ballet: Bringing Professional Ballet to Utah Valley

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Jackie-stretching

Celebrating its 20th anniversary performance season, Utah Regional Ballet commends Artistic Director Jacqueline Price Colledge for successfully establishing local youth and collegiate ballet training programs as well as a reputable, professional performing company.

By Melynda Thorpe Burt, for utahvalley360.com

Dancers don’t dance forever. No one knows this better than Jacqueline Price Colledge.

For seven years, Jackie performed with Ballet West in both principal and soloist roles. She was a seasoned professional until she made the decision to retire her career to raise a family. Remaining passionate about ballet and the cultural opportunities it provides, Jackie has been working for 20 years to develop a program in Utah Valley that allows dancers at all levels to enjoy quality performance opportunities and advanced training options.

Now attracting dancers from across the nation, Jackie’s Utah Regional Ballet is distinguished for its commitment to preserving classical ballet, performing works of original and historical choreography, magnificent scenery and costuming, and for involving local youth in both performance and arts education symposia. Locally, she has extended opportunities for dancers to continue their careers after the spotlight fades.

As ballet instructors and educators, former principal dancers of Utah Regional Ballet and other ballet companies now have opportunities to contribute on both community and collegiate levels. Many also serve on advisory boards for Utah Valley cultural organizations, and for Jackie, the dream is turning full circle. A young child can now enroll in ballet class, continue into high school and through college, and then audition for a reputable, professional ballet company – all here in Utah Valley. Into adulthood, dancers can leave the stage for opportunities to continue as instructors, and while dancers once believed their career would not last forever, Jackie has created an order of opportunities that proves otherwise.

Some stories are not best told from the beginning. This one is. When Jackie Price was a pony-tailed 10-year-old, she would ride her bicycle down Lehi City’s Main Street to an old brick bakery turned dance studio. Waving to hometown acquaintances along the way, she would pedal almost daily to the same destination, but she wasn’t going to dance.

Gifted with a beautiful singing voice, young Jackie performed regularly at community functions and even sang live on local radio. Convinced of her daughter’s genuine ability, Jackie’s mother encouraged and proudly promoted her.

But Jackie’s dreams were different.

At night, she would dream of dancing across the stage, like a princess, gracefully gliding through the air and into the arms of another. She dreamed of motion and turning and toe shoes. She recalls begging her parents to let her take dance lessons, but they advised her instead to develop her musical talent. Not all children were blessed with such a gift, they would say.

What Utah Valley should know about Utah Regional Ballet
• URB was established in 1982 by Jacqueline Price Colledge
• URB is Utah Valley’s own professional ballet company comprised of 18 apprentice and 13 paid dancers
• URB has performed in China and Austria, as well as part of the Olympic Arts Festival Performance Series for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games
• “Legend of Timpanogos,” produced and choreographed by Colledge, recounts local Native American history and is regarded as the company’s signature piece
• URB has been performing “Nutcracker” for Utah Valley audiences for 22 years
• URB is in residence at UVSC, which plans to soon begin offering a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance
• 54 sections of dance are offered at UVSC serving approximately 900 students
• It takes four large storage sheds to house the costumes and scenery
• Girls go through an average two pair of pointe shoes per week at $70 per pair
• When dancing a principal role, double the number of shoes per week
• More than 300 Utah Valley children auditioned for parts in “Nutcracker”
• The company’s educational outreach program reaches more than 6,200 Utah Valley school children each year
• The company budget is comprised of private donations, corporate donations and grants, and ticket sales
• UVSC provides an average of 16 scholarships to company dancers each year

So, with elbows propped on handlebars, Jackie would sit for hours watching through the old storefront windows as girls her age learned tap routines, dance combinations and pirouettes. From outside the building, she daydreamed of what it would be like to be a dancer.

After summoning the courage to go inside, one day Jackie stood at the back of the room and began imitating the instructor. She recalls how the instructor eventually called her parents and explained how she had been watching and mimicking the class. He also mentioned that she was really quite good and ought to be allowed to enroll.

“My parents were a little embarrassed to learn I’d been getting free lessons,” Jackie recalls. But realizing the depth of her desire, Jackie’s parents agreed to let her enroll if she promised to never stop singing.

Jackie learned the fundamentals and variations of tap, jazz and ballet. She loved ballet so much that she enrolled in additional classes for extra exposure. From the beginning, it was evident she was a natural.

“It was my dream come true to be learning ballet, and after my parents saw my first performance, they both said it was OK if I never sang again,” she recalls.

At age 13, Jackie enrolled in the University of Utah’s extension division for young dancers.

“My mother drove me over the Point of the Mountain every day,” she says. “I loved it so much I told her I would crawl on my hands and knees to get there if I had to.”

After graduating from high school, Jackie became one of 500 dancers to audition for the ballet major at the University of Utah; she was one of 100 accepted. By the end of her freshman year, she had signed a professional contract with Ballet West and was touring and performing with the Salt Lake City company under the tutelage of the late Willam F. Christensen, Ballet West’s founder and man behind the first American university ballet program at the University of Utah.

At age 24, having completed seven years in professional dance and filling many coveted soloist and principal roles, Jackie traded one passion for another. She married her hometown sweetheart Joseph Dee Colledge and the two began building a home and family of four children. But always missing was ballet.

“I really wanted a family,” she says. “In those days, you couldn’t do both.” One afternoon, Jackie remembers Joe arriving home from work and saying he didn’t care what it was – teaching, taking a class or just watching – he wanted her to do something with ballet. “He could see that ballet was missing in my life, and that I wasn’t a truly happy person without it,” she says.

In 1976, the Jacqueline Colledge School of Ballet was established in American Fork with enrollment of six girls.

By 1980, having grown to more than 300 dancers, she created the performing company Utah Youth Ballet under the auspices of Utah Pageant of the Arts, and in 1982, seeking expansion and increased performance opportunities, she organized an independent board of trustees and Utah Regional Ballet was born.

Reserved for qualified dancers ages 13 and up, Utah Regional Ballet began performing professional productions such as “Coppelia” and “Nutcracker” to Utah Valley audiences of 200-300 in 1982.

Noting that then Utah Valley State College President Kerry D. Romesburg was regularly attending, Jackie decided to approach him with her concern that Utah Valley dancers were having to leave the area to receive advanced training and professional employment at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Pennsylvania Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and Nevada Ballet Theater.

Jackie’s own daughter, Heather, left to train at San Francisco Ballet School and was recruited in 1993 to perform with Het National Ballet of Amsterdam, Holland. Jackie’s second daughter, Brittnee, also moved away from home to study at the University of Utah before performing professionally with Ballet West.

“I became concerned that I was training my students and helping them reach this beautiful point, then they would graduate from high school and I would have to let them go,” Jackie says. “I felt strongly that we needed to develop a program right here in Utah Valley that would keep the talent here.”

In 1996, Jackie presented Romesburg with the proposal to develop a four-year fine arts program in dance at UVSC. Housing the program on the Orem campus would allow high school graduates from throughout the valley to continue their training, and upon qualification, prepare for professional career positions that could be offered through Utah Regional Ballet.

“He was very open to the idea and almost immediately got the ball rolling,” she recalls. Romesburg took action by adopting URB as an in-residence performing company and offered the college’s spacious dance studio and training facilities.

Most significantly, he put Jackie to work writing curricula for beginning and advanced level ballet courses. With the support of URB’s board of trustees, Jackie established URB II as a vocational apprentice company and elevated the URB company to professional status.

In its first five years, enrollment in UVSC’s dance program has grown to include 54 sections serving more than 900 students each semester. Ballet alone has grown from one class of 12 students to eight classes serving 175 students.

The reputation of the program is attracting transfer students from other colleges, universities, ballet programs and ballet companies including Hawaii State Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, City Ballet School of San Francisco, Ballet Arkansas Academy, University of Utah and Ballet West. But for Jackie, most exciting is the enrollment of high school graduates from American Fork, Alpine, Lehi, Orem, Provo, Springville and other local communities.

When describing the development of the UVSC bachelor of fine arts degree, Jackie beams with pride. While actively pursuing approval for the degree, she and her colleagues hope UVSC students will soon have the option of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in dance with emphasis in ballet, modern or ballroom.

“This program is designed to offer a perfect combination of theory and practical dance training,” she says. “Ballet students are attracted to the emphasis on classics, the integration of ethics and the ability to apply for scholarships and audition for a local, professional company.”

Today, the Utah Valley company has grown to employ 13 paid professional dancers. Amanda Bodily, of Orem, began dancing at the Jacqueline School of Ballet at age 3. Now a professional company dancer, Amanda has performed solo roles in productions such as “Nutcracker,” “Cinderella” and “La Coquette.”

“There is something so gratifying after a hard day of ballet,” Amanda says. “When you go home, it feels so good to know you’ve challenged yourself completely.”

URB’s Vance Debes, of Provo, agrees.

“Ballet is the overall physical achievement. If you can do ballet and do it well, and if you’re able to do something that is really difficult and make it look easy, that is the ultimate satisfaction,” Vance says.

Jackie’s students don’t dance around the question if they’re asked about Jackie’s qualifications.

“She is the best at what she does. As with any major business, a successful company requires a leader that is willing to make major sacrifices, work countless hours, and invest emotionally and financially. Jackie does all of that,” Vance says. “You won’t find better training or a higher level of professionalism both in the studio and on stage, anywhere.”

Company members dance between five and eight hours a day, five to six days a week.

“This is a job just like any other job,” Vance says. “But what makes it different from any other job is being able to make people happy, to have your talent appreciated, and because it is so physically challenging.”

In 2002, URB met another significant milestone with the acquisition of a full-time, paid executive director. Previous to his current position, Mark Walker was employed at KTVX Channel 4 News and was media relations and communications manager for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

As URB executive director, Walker is responsible for generating increased support from the community as well as financial resources to expand the company’s repertoire and increase opportunities for the dancers.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to bring awareness to the ballet and take it to the next level,” Walker says. “I’m certain we can do a lot to bring awareness of both ballet and the arts to Utah Valley.”

An additional goal is to continue bringing guest artists to star in URB productions. In May, Christopher Young will star with URB’s Brittnee Squires in the company’s debut of “Romeo & Juliet.” Formerly of Boston Ballet and Ballet West, Young brings an added level of professionalism to the stage.

“When we can bring artists in from other reputable companies, it allows us to learn from them and it gives our audience exposure to dancers they might not otherwise have an opportunity to see,” Jackie says.

Perhaps best known as the company’s signature piece, “Legend of Timpanogos” is performed bi-annually and always when URB goes on tour. Ten years in the making (including writing, research, choreography, staging and costuming), “Legend of Timpanogos” is based on the legend Jackie originally learned as a fourth-grade student at Lehi Elementary School.

Using Native American sign language to tell the story, Jackie says, “I have learned that many people here in the valley didn’t even know the legend of Mount Timpanogos until they saw this ballet.”

Through her work and research, Jackie developed a kinship to the Native American people.

“I developed an appreciation for local history and a deep reverence for the Native American people,” she says. “I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a statement that reflects their culture and ours.”

The company is hitting its 20-year mark, but Jackie has not been counting down the days.

“I never looked forward to this day,” Jackie says. “You work so hard trying to make the program better, to raise the standard and improve the level of professionalism, then someone says this is your 20th year.”

With a smile, Jackie is sure she’ll also be surprised when she learns they’ve hit their 30th year.

Last December, when the curtain closed on the company’s Friday night performance of “Nutcracker,” there stood cheering among the crowd of 1,450 a young girl named Corina, a kindergartner from Springville.

With her own dreams of becoming a ballerina someday, Corina clapped long and hard for the dancers while clutching onto a magic-marker portrait of Clara, the Snow Prince and Nutcracker.

Jumping up and down for the opportunity to meet the ballerinas and deliver her homemade artwork, Corina was invited backstage where Jackie stood commending her cast. With open arms, Jackie greeted the young girl and began introducing her to the dancers, and at that moment, the embodiment of dream and opportunity met.

Jackie’s dedication and sacrifice have led thousands in Utah Valley to applaud the Utah Regional Ballet and ask for an encore. Here’s to another 20 years.

 

Melynda Thorpe Burt of Springville enjoys writing for a living and as a hobby. She serves as director of publications at Utah Valley State College where she also teaches public relations courses and is editor of the alumni magazine, SEQUEL.

 

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